We’re wrapping up Stress Awareness month by focusing on members of your family that may be especially vulnerable to stress: teens. If you have teens or pre-teens in your family, you know that this age can be challenging for your child. For our final Stress Awareness article, our team discusses which stressors are common for teens, and we share practical strategies for helping your teen navigate these feelings.
Social impact on teen stress
Like younger children, teens often stress about school, conflicts with friends or peers, family issues, taking on too many activities, negative feelings about themselves, and changes in their bodies. Many of these emotions are very common and are part of growing up. As children get older, they will likely experience different sources of stress than they did earlier in their lives.
In addition to the stress younger children experience, teens and pre-teens report feeling stressed about their future and the state of the world. Studies have shown that teens are more likely than younger children to become stressed by events outside of their home. A 2018 survey found that teens and young adults (age 15-21) worry significantly about social issues in the news, including gun violence and school shootings, suicide rates, race, climate change, treatment of immigrants, and sexual harassment.
Pandemic impact on teen stress
In 2020, new research showed that the current state of the world has caused many teens to feel stressed about the uncertainty of their futures. In an annual survey about stress, the American Psychological Association found that the pandemic has been a significant source of stress for teens. In fact, 43% of teens say the level of stress in their life has increased over the past year.
The survey also found that out of the teens surveyed:
- 50% feel that pandemic has severely disrupted their plans for the future.
- 51% report that the pandemic makes planning for the future feel impossible.
- 52% have less motivation to do school work.
- 45% struggle to concentrate on school work
During the pandemic and beyond, it is critical for your family to work together to maintain your teen’s social, emotional, and mental health. You can practice these strategies to help manage stress and help your teen develop resilience for future challenges they may encounter in adulthood.
Six ways parents can manage stress for teens during the pandemic and beyond
1. Watch for good stress and bad stress.
Some stress can be healthy and teach teens how to cope with their emotions effectively. However, untreated stress can develop into anxiety and have an impact on long-term physical and mental health. (See our blog for tips to spot the difference between stress and anxiety)
2. Talk to your teen about stress.
If your teen is stressed about uncertainty due to the pandemic, you can remind them that they should not be afraid to step away from their prior plans to try something new or different. Ask open-ended questions about how your teen feels and allow them to talk freely about why they feel stressed. You can learn about active listening strategies here.
3. Model stress management skills.
Like younger children, teens may replicate the behaviors they see in their household. You can lead by example by showing an appropriate reaction to stress. Show them how you handle your stress. (ex: draw, read, meditate, deep breathing, take a long walk). You can this easy practice this breathing technique with your child:
- Relax your neck and shoulders.
- Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for 2 seconds.
- Pucker your lips and exhale slowly by blowing air through your mouth for four seconds.
- Repeat 4-5 times.
4. Practice the rule of “three good things.”
Set time aside at the end of each day to reflect on three good things that happened. These good things can be significant, like getting an A on a test, or small, like getting laundry done. This activity can put things in perspective, help decrease anxiety, and build emotional resiliency.
5. Set realistic expectations for your teen and encourage them to do the same.
Encourage your teen to do their best, but give them space when they don’t have the energy or motivation. Even when it’s not a global pandemic, life can become stressful. Providing teens with flexibility can keep them from feeling hopeless or overwhelmed.
6. Communicate that help is available if they need it.
If stress becomes overwhelming, you can help your teen access mental health services during and after the pandemic. This can include telehealth services, like Hazel, your primary care provider, or a school counselor. If you need help locating affordable resources, check here.
Seven ways teens can learn to manage their own stress
Share these strategies to help your teen manage stress and learn resilience during stressful times.
1. Keep to a schedule.
Knowing what to expect each day will lower stress and can help you manage your time more effectively. A routine can make you feel more in control of your daily responsibilities and goals. Plan times for doing schoolwork, eating, relaxing, and connecting with friends. Also, be sure to make time for an adequate amount of sleep every night.
2. Eat a healthy diet.
A balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to function correctly. If you lack nutrition, you may be more likely to get sick, feel tired, and have overall poor health. During times of stress, avoid excess caffeine, which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation.
3. Stay physically active
Exercise is proven to boost moods and can help reduce stress levels and build emotional resilience. When you feel stressed, try taking a long walk, dancing for a few songs, or running around the school track.
4. Learn relaxation strategies.
Yoga, stretching, and breathing exercises can be helpful to reset and take a break from stress. Try this breathing exercise:
- Take a deep breath to the count of three.
- Breath out slowly to the count of six. Focus on letting out as much air as you can.
- Repeat. Start with two minutes, but you can keep doing it until you start to feel better.
5. Take a break from stressful situations.
When you feel stressed, try focusing on something else for a while. Activities like listening to music, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress. It may also help to unplug from social media and turn off notifications.
6. Decrease negative self-talk.
Challenge any negative thoughts you may have about yourself with alternative, positive thoughts. Learn to feel good about doing a competent job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others.
7. Connect with others.
Conversation can be a powerful tool. Talking with someone you trust about your feelings can relieve stress and promote resilience.
Families, if you are concerned that your teen is struggling with stress or anxiety, you may want to seek help from a professional. If Hazel is available in your school, you can reach out to schedule a visit. Our doctors can help connect your family to the right help.